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Pflueger gets seven months in jail for dam breach

  • RON KOSEN / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER
    Kauai state judge Randal G.B. Valenciano sentenced James Pflueger (right) to seven month in jail and five years of probation for his role in the deaths of seven people who were swept to their deaths in the Ka Loko dam breach.
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LIHUE >> A state judge on Kauai sentenced retired car dealer James Pflueger Wednesday to seven months in jail for his role in the deaths of seven people who were swept to their deaths in 2006 by flood waters that had breached the Ka Loko dam.

Circuit Judge Randal G.B. Valenciano also sentenced Pflueger to five years probation. His company was fined $1,000 for each death after the judge rejected a $350,000 fine that had been part of the initial plea agreement. 

Daniel Jay Arroyo, Alan Gareth Dingwall, Rowan Grey Makana Fehring-Dingwall, Aurora Solveig Fehring, Christina Michelle McNees, Timothy Wendell Noonan, Jr. and Carl Wayne Rotstein died Mar. 14, 2006, when the Ka Loko dam burst sending an estimated 400 million gallons of water down stream on Kauai’s north shore.

A Kauai grand jury indicted Pflueger, 88, on seven counts of manslaughter in 2008 after the state Attorney General accused him of causing the deaths by filling in the dam’s spillway. The spillway is designed to prevent breaches by diverting overflow waters. The dam burst from the accumulation of 40 days of near constant rain.

After unsuccessfully challenging the charges, then balking several times on a plea deal, Pflueger pleaded no contest in July last year to a single count of felony reckless endangering while his company, Pacific 808 Properties. LP, pleaded no contest to the seven counts of manslaughter. 

As part of the plea deal with the state, the Attorney General promised to recommend a five-year probation sentence for Pflueger but would be free to also recommend conditions that could include up to a year in jail, community service and a fine. Pflueger’s company Pacific 808 Properties had earlier agreed to pay a $350,000 fine — the maximum $50,000 for each manslaughter count — as part of that deal. The money was to be spent on a state dam inspection and safety program.

Valenciano initially accepted the pleas and found Pflueger and his company guilty, but he also made clear that he did not have to abide by the terms of the plea agreement.

He scheduled sentencing for January. Both sides agreed to continue the sentencing four times due to Pflueger’s health.

On Wednesday, the judge rejected the $350,000 fine and imposed a $7,000 penalty instead.

The families of the seven victims and land owners whose properties were damaged by the flood waters, including Bette Midler, sued Pflueger for causing the Ka Loko dam breach. In 2009, Pflueger, the state, Kauai County, current and former owners of land under the dam, their insurers, engineering frims and contractors agreed to pay $25 million to settle the lawsuits.

In 2011 Pflueger granted the trustee of the Ka Loko Dam Litigation Settlement Trust mortgages worth $12 million on three of his properties on Kauai to guarantee his share of the settlement. The trustee released Pflueger from mortgages in August last year.

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